How and McCullum power New Zealand win
New Zealand, led by scintillating half-centuries from Brendon McCullum and Jamie How, dismantled South Africa with clinical efficiency and brought the one-day series alive with a seven-wicket victory in the second one-dayer at St George's Park. The target of 210 was seen as fairly competitive under lights but McCullum and How tackled it with a level of confidence rarely seen from New Zealand in this series.
There was a refreshing consistency with which New Zealand dominated the game for most parts. The 89-run rescue act for the sixth wicket between Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher was the only lengthy passage of play dominated by South Africa - who had won eight of the last ten day-night games here - but the momentum was with New Zealand from the second ball of the match.
Lou Vincent's run-out got the chase off to a rocky start but that brought McCullum and How together. McCullum was in imperious touch against Nel in particular and dented his confidence in one over. Nel pitched up outside off, McCullum lofted through the line and deposited the ball straight back over his head for the first six of the innings. The next ball was heaved over point before How got into the act with a streaky inside edge past short fine leg, but the intent with which the pair picked up 16 in that single over sent out a statement that New Zealand weren't going to be trampled upon again.
Both showed a fondness for horizontal bat shots - some met with thin air, some off the toe edge while some rocketed off the meat of the bat. The confidence in the strokeplay rubbed off on the running between the wickets as the pair rotated the strike judiciously. The fielding was sharp, characteristic of the South Africans, but not sharp enough. The number of direct hits didn't deter How or McCullum from applying further pressure on the infielders. Gaps were bisected with precision and there wasn't much Graeme Smith could do to plug them.
The ploy of bowling slower balls, adopted by Charl Langeveldt, had the right intention - to confuse the batsmen - but not the desired effect. The ball often landed short of a good length, allowing the batsmen time to plan their strokes. The partnership looked ominous for South Africa and the bounce and sideways movement in the evening was barely seen under lights. As the pair stretched the stand to 150, the shoulders drooped and South Africa ran out of ideas, with the chase progressing at the rate of knots.
Despite the running, it was ironical that two of the three dismissals came by way of run-outs. Dale Steyn, on the field as a substitute, set a fine example with a flat throw from deep extra cover to send back McCullum for 81 and How was trapped playing across the line to Langeveldt for 76. But it was a little too late for inspiration as Scott Styris and Ross Taylor played neat cameos and reached the target with 68 balls to spare.
New Zealand's batsmen were simply carrying on the team's effort in the field. South Africa's top order wilted under the pressure created at the start by an incisive opening burst from Kyle Mills, backed by restrictive spells from the two-pronged spin attack of Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel.
The catching and anticipation was sharp and agile, and New Zealand, sensing an opportunity to make further inroads, threw themselves in the field, plugging the gaps in the first Powerplay. At 20 for 3, the pressure began to tell, particularly on Jacques Kallis, who was uncharacteristically scratchy in a situation tailor-made for him. Attempts at shuffling across the stumps to unsettle the bowler's rhythm were met with little or no success and the fielders patrolling the inner circle were kept busy each time Kallis attempted something different.
JP Duminy, who promised plenty with a couple of smooth drives on the front foot, fell to an untimely slog off Patel. And as the usually festive crowd turned quiet, New Zealand celebrated Kallis' wicket as well.
The rebuilding act by Boucher and Pollock wasn't electrifying but effective as they rotated the strike against Patel and Vettori. The first ten overs of the stand had little in runs value -only 26 came off it - but the passage of play after the drinks interval followed a slightly different script. Pollock was fed with three gifts in succession by Gillespie - scooping two over backward point and dispatching the third back past the bowler - and suddenly the next ten overs yielded 58.
The late fireworks were reserved for Nel. He picked on Mills, one of New Zealand's least-effective bowlers at the death, slashing past gully, smoking one over square leg, and then following it up with a six over deep cover. Nel finished the innings in style with a six off Gillespie, giving South Africa hope. However, there weren't too many smiles in the South African camp after that.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo